Why I'm avoiding this stock despite 22% profit growth forecast for 2017

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Image: UBM: Fair use

While it is always tempting to follow other investors and buy shares in fast-growing companies, being a contrarian investor could be more profitable. It may allow you to buy shares which are unpopular, thereby providing significant upward re-rating prospects. Similarly, it may mean you avoid stocks which prove to be somewhat overvalued. Reporting on Wednesday was a company which, while among the top performers for the day, may prove to be a disappointing investment in the long run.

Upbeat outlook

That company is events specialist UBM (LSE: UBM). It reported better than expected results for the 2016 financial year on Wednesday. Its continuing revenue increased by over 12%, while continuing adjusted operating profit was 19.2% higher. This shows that the company is performing well following the disposal of PR Newswire and the acquisition of Allworld Exhibitions. This has refocused the company on the business-to-business (B2B) events sector, which seems to offer significant growth potential.

In fact, in the current financial year UBM is expected to record a rise in its earnings of 22%. This is around four times the expected growth rate of the wider index. Clearly, there is scope for a difficult period for the global economy, but UBM believes that the integration of Allworld could have a positive impact on its bottom line. Furthermore, it believes that its current strategy will drive margin improvement, which would help to offset any pressure on sales over the coming year.

Valuation

Despite its impressive performance and upbeat outlook for 2017, UBM's valuation appears to price in its future potential. For example, in the 2018 financial year it is expected to record a rise in earnings of just 3%. Using its current price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 19, this equates to a price-to-earnings growth (PEG) ratio of around 6.3. This indicates that while its shares may be popular at the present time, they could lack upside potential over a longer term timeframe.

That's especially the case when UBM's sector peer WPP(LSE: WPP) trades on a P/E ratio of 16.9 and is forecast to increase its earnings by 15% this year and 9% in 2018. This puts it on a PEG ratio of just 1.4, which indicates that it offers substantially more capital gain potential than UBM.

Risks

Furthermore, UBM's risk profile may be higher than that of its sector peer. It is in the midst of a major restructuring which is turning it into a more concentrated business which focuses on events. While this may lead to higher growth in the long run, it could lead to uncertainty and integration challenges in the short run.

While WPP is likely to engage in M&A activity this year, it has a long history of making acquisitions work. Therefore, its business model may be less risky than that of UBM at the present time. As such, buying the less popular of the two companies (i.e. WPP) may prove to be the best option, in my opinion.

Growth potential

While WPP and UBM may have high growth rates, there's another stock that could be on the cusp of even more impressive earnings performance. In fact it's been named as A Top Growth Share From The Motley Fool.

The company in question doesn't just offer high growth. It also appears to trade on a reasonable valuation. As such, it could make a positive impact on your portfolio returns in 2017.

Click here to find out all about it - doing so is completely free and comes without any obligation.

Peter Stephens has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended UBM. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.